Being a student expanded my mind, my opportunities, and my debt load.

And the post-secondary experience continues to offer these highs and lows. On average, Canadian students now graduate with over $26,000 in debt at the end of a four-year degree program, as reported by the Canadian University Survey Consortium in 2015.

A big portion of this debt is somewhat uncontrollable – school fees and rent. However, the remaining expenses you may have the power to minimize. Here are two short lists of basic non-negotiables, and some neat tricks that will improve your bottom line.

Seven non-negotiable money rules for students:

  1. Set a simple budget, and live by it.
  2. Buy used textbooks.
  3. Eat at home and pack lunches.
  4. Use the campus gym or join free sports teams for exercise.
  5. Take on a part-time job if it doesn’t interrupt getting school work done well.
  6. Avoid racking up credit cards, no more than a $500 limit is all you need to start building a credit rating.
  7. Apply for all the scholarships and bursaries available.

Seven lesser-known money strategies for students:

  1. Get a no-fee bank account to save up to $200 per year.
    It’s unlikely you require many special transactions, so don’t pay for them. Open a chequing account with a financial institution that won’t charge you monthly account fees. Even better if it has free e-transfers, like the Simply Free account at Island Savings.
  2. Haggle to save on anything.
    Your student card is license to ask for a discount on any product. Just be consistent and friendly, and use my four-step process:

    • Give a compliment
    • State your case
    • Ask for what you want
    • Wait
      Here’s how it sounds: “Coming to your restaurant is the highlight of my week, but as a student it’s getting a little expensive. Can you help me make it more affordable?” It’s that simple if your succinct and polite. The hardest part is waiting for a response, but avoid over-explaining or you’ll likely talk yourself out of a deal.

    Become a master of haggling and you’ll not only save money but you can include negotiation skills on your resume.

  3. Envelope your entertainment allowance.
    The bigger your social scene grows, the more your savings could shrink. But it’s hard to say no to all the epic adventures, so you need a foolproof way to help yourself. I recommend the “envelope method” to stick to your luxuries budget. Every week put the cash you can afford to spend on fun activities in an envelope. As you play, use only this money. Once it’s run out, you’re done for the week!
    (Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck studying the other five days. You just need to partake in free activities.)
  4. Use technology to talk.
    Anything more than a basic cellphone calling plan is likely going to be an unnecessary expense. With an internet connection and a computer or mobile app, you can easily keep in touch with everyone. Apps and data are often free or much cheaper than long-distance airtime. Use some of the money you’re saving to buy a good headset and talk all you want. You’ll never feel homesick.
  5. Track every single expense.
    It’s not nice to be surprised by an empty back account, and not keeping an eye on your spending could lead to some serious living or credit problems. Avoid this problem by checking-in on your spending every week. (I set a recurring event in my calendar for a time I’m usually home.) It doesn’t have to be tedious either, if you choose to have your account with Island Savings, for example, your spending is already sorted for you to assess your history in just a few minutes via online banking.
  6. Request your insurance refund.
    If you are covered by a parent’s medical or dental insurance, then you do not need to pay again through your student union. Find out if any insurance fees were collected when you paid tuition and recoup that money.
  7. Invest your savings for the short term.
    Since you have a budget, you know how much money you need to cover your expenses for the next few months. Put the rest of your savings in a guaranteed term deposit for 30 to 364 days. You’ll earn some in interest until you need the money, and you won’t be tempted to spend your money impulsively. This is something that a credit union, such as Island Savings, can help you do as a student.

Putting these money practices into action will make it simple to better afford and enjoy your school experience.

Do you have any unique ways of saving or earning during post-secondary life? Share your strategies below.

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